Do Harleys Have ABS Braking Systems? (Explained)

The Harley-Davidson brand is easily one of the most popular in the world of motorcycles.

These motorcycles are the preferred choice for many bikers who love the uniqueness, mystique, and aura around the Harley brand.

Unlike the die-hard Harley fans who buy the motorcycle for the image, you may be more concerned about the bike’s safety. Anti-Lock Brakes are among the essential safety equipment for motorcycles.

A motorcycle without ABS is not only unsafe but dangerous.

Do Harleys Have ABS Braking Systems?

Harley-Davidson was one of the last motorcycle manufacturers to introduce Anti-Lock brakes on its motorcycles. Hence, the majority of its old models do not have ABS on them. Most of the newer Harley motorcycles now offer ABS, either as a standard feature or optional equipment.

What Is the Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS)?

Motorcycles, with their two wheels, are unstable compared to four-wheeled automobiles.

Braking too hard on a motorcycle may cause the front or rear wheels to lock up and lead to a crash or collision.

The Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS) prevents your bike’s wheels from locking up during braking. It uses speed sensors on the wheels to measure wheel speed and detect when a wheel is about to lock up.

Once the sensors detect potential wheel lock-up, the ABS will adjust the braking pressure accordingly. This will prevent the wheel from locking and ensure it does not destabilize the bike. ABS also reduces braking distance and gives traction and stability on slippery surfaces covered with snow, loose gravel, etc.

Harley-Davidson, like many other motorcycle manufacturers, was reluctant to adopt ABS on its bikes. It was not until 2005 that the first Harley motorcycles with ABS capability were released.

Even those were police cruisers and not available for civilian users.

The first civilian Harley motorcycles with the ABS feature were the 2008 Road King models. Things have improved, and ABS is now standard on most Harley motorcycles.

Which Harley Models Have ABS?

Since the Road King Touring Model [the first ABS-enabled Harley], subsequent Harley motorcycles now offer ABS in some capacity, either as a standard or optional feature.

Below is a list showing the Harley models that have the ABS Braking System as either a standard feature or an additional component:

  1. Harley-Davidson Road King
  2. Harley-Davidson Softail
  3. Harley-Davidson Sportster
  4. Harley-Davidson Fat Bob
  5. Harley-Davidson Electra Glide
  6. Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic
  7. Harley-Davidson Street 500
  8. Harley-Davidson Street 750
  9. Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight
  10. Harley-Davidson Fat Boy
  11. Harley-Davidson Low-Rider
  12. Harley-Davidson Roadster
  13. Harley-Davidson FXDR 114
  14. Harley-Davidson Iron 883
  15. Harley-Davidson Iron 1200

How Do I Know If A Harley Has ABS Installed?

When Harley-Davidson started putting ABS on its bikes, owners complained that the ABS design made their bikes ugly.

The company placed the ABS module behind the bike’s fairings on future models to solve the problem.

This way, the ABS is not in open view, and the motorcycle’s design is not affected.

This, however, makes it harder for owners to know if their Harley bike has ABS or not. Not sure if your Harley comes with ABS or not? Here are signs you should look out for:

1. ABS Light Flashing On the Instrument Cluster

This is perhaps the easiest way to check if your motorcycle comes with ABS from the factory.

To use this method, start your motorcycle and start driving. Once you have driven a short distance, check the ABS Light on the instrument panel. If the bike truly has anti-lock braking, the ABS Light will flash as the system conducts a check.

However, exercise caution when using this method. Just because the motorcycle’s ABS light comes on does not mean it is functional. It only shows that the bike once had ABS on it.

Be careful, especially if you are buying a used Harley motorcycle.

Some owners may remove their bike’s ABS and still describe them as ABS-enabled to prospective buyers.

2. Slotted Disc in Line with Disc Brake

Although this visual check does not apply to all motorcycles, it is still reliable to confirm if your Harley has ABS.

To use this method, check for a slotted disc or ring that bolts in line with the brake discs. It is often bolted to the front axle and looks like a small disc with a smaller diameter.

The small slots cause the ABS’s pulsation when you brake too hard or lock the wheels up at higher speeds. You can find these slotted discs in aftermarket kits that can be bolted on your bike’s front axle and brake caliper.

Aftermarket ABS systems are not advisable, though.

Brakes are the most important safety items on your motorcycle, and trying to modify them can be dangerous.

3. Follow The Lines

The surest way to tell if a bike has ABS is to follow the brake lines. 

If the brake lines go straight from the master cylinder to the caliper, then your Harley does not have ABS. 

In some cases, if the brake lines seem to run into the chassis of the bike or another box, it could have ABS.

However, just because the brake lines do not go directly to the caliper does not mean your bike has ABS.

If you notice the brake lines go into another box, like a proportioning valve, this could be part of a linked braking system. Linked braking systems are most common on larger bikes.

You may also like to explore our article Do Harleys Come With a Tool kit?

What Are The Pros And Cons Of ABS On A Harley?

Many Harley riders, especially the experienced ones, believe ABS is expensive equipment they don’t need.

The general sentiment among this group is that you can brake effectively without locking up the wheels with superior braking skills. Practicing how to brake in different driving situations, they say, is a better alternative to paying extra for ABS on your Harley.

These assertions are correct to an extent, especially concerning the need for regular braking skill practice. However, braking skills cannot help you brake safely in all situations. Sometimes you need to brake immediately or suffer a crash or, worse, a collision.

Most people’s instinct in such cases is to press the brakes hard, hoping to reduce the bike’s stopping distance. The problem is exerting enormous pressure on your brakes may cause the motorcycle’s wheels to lock up.

The Anti-Lock Braking System [ABS] prevents situations like these. It has sensors that continuously monitor braking pressure and detect hard braking. These sensors will alert the ABS, which reduces the braking pressure on the wheels.

The ABS prevents the wheels from locking up and ensures your bike does not lose stability. This way, you can avoid what could have become a severe crash or collision.

Are there other benefits of having ABS on your Harley motorcycle?

Some of them include:

1. Reduced Braking Distance

Regulatory agencies have conducted several tests to determine if ABS can reduce braking distances on motorcycles.

One such study, carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, showed that ABS reduced braking distances by at least 5-10% on motorcycles.

This means that if the average stopping distance on a motorcycle is 100 feet, an ABS-enabled bike will stop up to 10 feet shorter.

2. Increased Vehicle Control and Stability

ABS provides greater stability and ensures that your bike stays upright and does not fall to the floor.

It also increases the control you have over the motorcycle. This is a good thing, particularly in slippery conditions, as it prevents the bike from losing control.

With all these advantages, is ABS a perfect system? No.

Like every machine, ABS has a few disadvantages of its own:

1. Cost

ABS-enabled Harley motorcycles are usually more expensive than their non-ABS counterparts.

This is because ABS braking systems often have more components than traditional braking systems.

The chances are that one or several of these components will fail and develop problems that need costly repairs. These components are also expensive to replace. Parts like wheel speed sensors can cost hundreds of dollars.

The ABS is delicate, and if one or two components in the system fail, you may need to rebuild the entire unit. Considering the cost of components and the complexity of the ABS, an overhaul can quickly become expensive.

2. May Increase Stopping Distance

One of the biggest selling points for ABS braking systems is reducing braking distances on any surface.

New evidence, however, suggests this assertion may not be as accurate as motorcycle companies would have us believe.

Many research findings reveal that ABS braking systems may increase stopping times on motorcycles. Drivers have also reported the same problem. According to drivers, the ABS braking system works well on slippery surfaces but often lengthens braking distances on regular surfaces.

However, the ABS braking system is important, even with all these flaws. Yes, it is cheaper to buy a non-ABS bike. But will the hospital bills and damaged motorcycles be worth it?

It is better to have a bike with ABS than one without. If you don’t plan to use your bike’s ABS, you can turn it off (some bikes come with ABS switches, or you can retrofit an ABS switch)

Can You Add ABS To A Harley Later?

Harley owners, especially those who own the older models, often ask if it is possible to add ABS to a non-ABS bike.

The simple and short answer is no. It is possible but extremely difficult to retrofit your Harley with ABS technology. However, we do not advise that you add ABS to your Harley for these reasons.

First, ABS systems are tuned to match the individual motorcycle model. These systems are not devices you can purchase later and bolt on to your bikes. ABS doesn’t work that way.

Each ABS is specifically engineered for every motorcycle. Therefore, in creating a motorcycle’s ABS, variables such as wheel size, stopping rate are taken into account.

Second, even if developing a retrofit ABS package is possible, only a few mechanics will help you install the ABS on your bike. Retrofitting your bike with ABS will involve extensive modifications. This can expose the person to potential liability costs if something goes wrong. That’s why you will hardly find any mechanic or repair shop willing to add ABS to your Harley.

Even if you find a repair shop willing to help you add ABS to your motorcycle, you will pay an awful lot of money. Because retrofitting bikes with ABS requires specialist skills and many hours of labor that a repair shop will charge you for.

More important, state laws often ban modifications to brake systems. Hence, you may not be allowed to ride your bike after you have spent huge sums on extensive modifications.

It is safer and more cost-effective to buy an ABS-enabled motorcycle. You can also sell your present Harley and buy one that comes with ABS. Trying to add ABS to your motorcycle may reduce the brake system’s potency and put you at risk.

What Are Typical Problems With Harley Brakes?

Harleys have some of the best brake systems available on any motorcycle, but they are still prone to flaws.

Here are the most common issues that have been associated with the brake on Harley bikes:

1. Front Brake Issues

Many Harley owners have reported several problems with the front brakes on their motorcycles. According to owners, the front brakes often malfunction or act erratically frequently.

Issues associated with the front brakes on Harley motorcycles include stiff front brakes and spongy or mushy brakes.

Stiff brakes occur when the lever is stuck in one position and cannot be pressed.

Harley owners also complain that the brakes on their motorcycles feel mushy or spongy when applied. They have to press the brakes multiple times before it works.

This is bad because normal motorcycle brakes should offer some resistance when applied. If your bike’s brakes feel soft and have to be pumped multiple times before they work, something is wrong.

Common causes of front brake problems on Harley motorcycles include warped brake rotors and frozen calipers. Air and moisture in the motorcycle’s brake lines can also cause issues with the front brakes. If your brakes are feeling soft and spongy, there is likely air and moisture in the system.

The good news is that the front brakes problems on Harley motorcycles are easy to fix. Brake rotors are readily available at Harley-Davidson dealerships and indie parts shops.

If you discover that air or moisture in the braking system is the culprit, you can bleed the brake lines. You need not be a professional mechanic to bleed your brakes.

With online DIY videos, you should be able to perform the bleeding procedure on your motorcycle’s brake lines.

2. Faulty Rear Brakes

Faulty rear brakes are also widespread among Harley owners.

From reports, the rear brakes are prone to many failures that may endanger drivers.

Many Harley owners report that the rear brakes often lose all power, leading to brake failure. According to owners, the rear brakes may fail while the motorcycle is on the road, putting both the rider and other people at risk.

Multiple diagnoses reveal that air or moisture in the braking lines is the most common cause of rear brake failure on Harley motorcycles.

To fix the rear brake failure on your Harley, all you need to do is bleed the braking lines. You can have the brakes bled by a professional, but it’s something you can DIY.

In 2011, Harley-Davidson recalled over 250,000 motorcycles because of a defect in the rear brake system. According to the official recall statement, the rear brakes could develop problems because of excessive heat exposure.

Investigations revealed that the rear brake switch was too close to the bike’s exhaust system; hence, the overheating. This problem can cause riders to lose control of their motorcycles, resulting in potentially serious accidents.

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